5 Things Holding You Back from Writing a Song

5 Things Holding You Back from Writing a Song

(No, really. It's not as hard as you think)
by Amy Trail 

Do you remember all those poems you wrote in High School and/or Junior High? Maybe you filled notebooks with your musings on teenage dreams, loves, secret longings and fears. When you look back at those poems, maybe more than a few are pretty cringe-worthy but some of them were pretty good, right? Before you became your own worst critic, you were a creator. Before the world shoved you into a box, you were an artist. Here are five things that may be holding you back from having the courage to create. 

1.) "You're Not Good Enough"
When you go to sit down to write a song, a lot of processes start to happen. Some people are flushed with so many ideas it's hard to pick one and start. Some people's brains clench up and they feel as if they have no worthy ideas. One thing most beginning songwriters share though, is crippling self-doubt. Self-doubt is the amalgamation of every negative thing that has been said to you, compressed into a ball of anxiety that you carry around in your brain.

If you're anything like me, you guard your self-doubt like mental soldier. Your self-doubt is a strangely comforting self-actualization that you think prevents you from being embarrassed or worse, feeling shame. Strangely enough, the reason why it prevents you from feeling shame and embarrassment, is that you subject yourself to it, versus an outside person or entity. In other words, you're punishing yourself before you allow someone else to. Smart, eh?

According to the tenets of exposure therapy, the best way to get over a fear, is to engage in the activity that causes the irrational fear. The only way to get over this self-doubt in regards to songwriting, is to just engage in the actual process of trying to write a song. We are all worthy enough to create art. There's no special permit issued to songwriters, they just start writing songs. The healing process for self-doubt comes from doing the thing that you have self-doubt about. 

2.) It's Too Hard
The process of starting a song is daunting. You may have a lot of expectations about how you want your song to be. You feel like you're standing at the bottom of a mountain and you know you have to get to the top, it's just the process is utterly overwhelming. Spoiler alert: there's only one way to get to the top, just START! 

Let go of the expectations of greatness. While you may indeed create something great, greatness isn't achieved without at least trying. There's many times that I haven't "struck gold" in the songwriting process until the second or third verse. Sometimes, I even throw out the first verse that I wrote or move it around in the song. When you're engaging in the nebulous process of creating art, you're in essence, building the bridge as you walk over it. 

Here's another secret, in songwriting the editing process is just as important as the writing process. Most great songs are crafted not born. The truly great lyrics and melodies usually come in iterations that come after the initial write, so don't edit yourself in your first draft. The magic is coming, you just gotta keep building the scaffolding that will support it. 

3.) Your Trauma Isn't Song Worthy
Maybe you're just starting out in your adult journey and don't feel like you have much to say. Maybe you've had a really boring and normal life so far and can't draw upon the classic heartbreak/heartache themes of so many great songs. Maybe the things that have happened to you are too personal to write in song form. Whatever it is, it's ok. You don't necessarily have to write songs about your life. 

In John Prime's "Angel from Montgomery", the narrator of the song is a woman. Last I checked, John Prine was a man, so he was "trying on somebody else's life" in order to create a story that resonated with listeners. He talks about being "an old woman, names after [her] mother". He talks, in first person about her loveless marriage and crafts one of the greatest lyrics of all time when he says, "How can a person, go to work in the morning. Come home in the evening and have nothing to say?'

Diane Warren is one of the most prolific songwriters of all-time. She has written dozens of hit love songs that talk about deep, timeless themes of love. Guess what, she's never been in a relationship. You don't have to write songs that are directly about you life. You can easily pretend to be someone else for the duration of your song, if that's what feels good to you, as songwriter. 

4.) I Don't Have Time/I Don't Have Space
Picture this: the dishes are done, the kids are asleep, the laptop is closed for the day and you're ready to write. Crap, nothing's coming to you! This was your only chance and now you've squandered it. 

Take a deep breath and take heart. You don't have to have big block of time set aside in order to create something worthy. Songwriting can take place in stops and starts, and most often does anyway. All you need is a recording device (iPhone works perfectly) and a willing mind. 

When you start really getting into the process of writing, song ideas will start to come to you. They'll come to you at the weirdest times, driving, cleaning, right before sleep, whenever. Capitalize on these little gifts from the universe by recording them into your iPhone for later retrieval. Later on,  when you sit down to write a song and nothing comes to you, you can play one of these snippets and work them out. 


5.) I'd Be Embarrassed to Play it For Others
No one cares about your songs more than you do. I know that sharing your inner most thoughts with a another person seems like a very intimate exchange and it is. More often that not though, whomever you share your song with is not gonna think it's bad or good. I've written great songs, played them for close friends, got a "that's nice honey" and then a change of subject. These songs later would go on to be some of the most well-received songs at performances. 

What's my point? Other people's opinions of your art do not validate or invalidate your art. Your art is your art and that alone makes it special. If you believe them when the love it, you gotta believe them when the hate it, right? Maybe outside validation is nice but not really necessary. We are writing songs because we like to write songs and it makes us feel good inside. Anything more is lagniappe (a little something extra), as we say in Louisiana. 

If you'd like more information about the process of songwriting, please join my mailing list.

Amy Trail lives in New Orleans, LA and is a singer/songwriter/pianist, Professor of Songwriting at Loyola University and a wife to Jim and mother of two boys. Find out more about Amy at www.amytrail.com


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